VOL 010: bring on Baby Sis
In the couple of uneventful hours it took to fly from Gatwick to Tunis, all the build-up, all the anxious energy, joined with jet leg and puberty to leave me pretty deflated. Deplaning, arriving at the house – all a blur. I hit the bed around 2 p.m. after the short drive from the airport, and awoke at roughly the same time the next day. The crying woke me up. It was a child, certainly. That much I knew. But why was it going on for such a seemingly long time? Close your eyes, someone will take care of this. Nope. I knew where the crying was coming from. It was the bedroom across the hall, the one Megan and Sandy had used during the first Tunis summer. Obviously, it was now the room of my year-old baby sister, Casey. In O’Bryan syntax, Case-o; formally Case-o, lace-o, funny face-o. She was not happy.
I OPENED THE DOOR AND WAS REMINDED
OF THAT CLOGGED LAVATORY
ON THE LAST FLIGHT
I rose from my cotton cocoon and rubbed my eyes. Best put on some pants. I opened the door and was reminded of that clogged lavatory on the last flight. I took the few steps over to Casey’s room, the door fully open, and peeked. Babies were entirely new to me, and I already had that awful track record with youngsters, so I was taking this one careful step at a time. I leaned in and the crying immediately stopped. In her crib, soiled cloth diaper off to a corner, Casey smiled the moment she saw me. Finally, she guessed, someone had arrived to put things right. Someone would rid her of this foul frosting she’d transformed into finger paint. Her handiwork marked the wooden bars of her crib, the wall adjacent, her little limbs and a, to a small degree, her face. I was relieved that the sight of me made Casey smile, but it’s not as though I was about to touch her, or even step close for fear she might have a tiny chunk of poop for flinging. I’d already learned that lesson watching a small monkey in the Paris zoo take aim at Dora. Unh-unh. Turning toward the hall, and the rest of the large house, with its echo-y marble stairway and foyer, I gave a tentative shout. “Dad!” No answer. I looked back to Casey, whose smile was giving way to some tension. “Why isn’t he doing anything worthwhile to get me out of this stinking mess,” she surely wondered in a baby’s language. “Just help me!” Sorry. That’s not going to happen. Not only may I inadvertently hurt you, it would be the first time in my knowledge that I would’ve touched excrement, something I’d managed to avoid for many years; grateful for no memory of the instance, so my father said, of inserting my finger into a goat’s anus at a San Diego petting zoo. I stepped outside the room, farther into the hallway. “Dad? Robin?” My voice bounced through the house. There in that limbo I remained, one foot in Casey’s room, one in the hallway, trying to keep a sort of smile on Casey’s face, listening for any signs of life in the rest of the house. It seemed to take ages, but was probably just a few minutes till I heard the front door open. Dad, seeming chipper, came up the stairs and saw me standing in Casey’s doorway at the end of the hall.
“She pulled her diaper off,” I said, feeling sort of foolish. But better to feel foolish than to cover my hands in shit. I hadn’t yet grasped that I had months of diaper changing ahead of me. Obie chuckled and marched past me, amused. He gallantly swept Casey up – though keeping her at arm’s length – and carried her over to the bathroom. Into the tub she went for an immediate hose-down, made so convenient when seemingly every society on Earth but America’s maintains shower wands as standard.
HE GALLANTLY SWEPT CASEY UP – THOUGH KEEPING HER AT ARM’S LENGTH
That’s when I met my sister. It was as though my original nuclear family dissolved, taking me from single-parent household, to only child, and now to another sort of nuclear family. And it went well enough. Obie, indeed, had mellowed. The tyrant had been tamed. Whether by Robin, whether by Casey, I didn’t know, didn’t care. Robin might call me out from a minor trespass, or demand that I take my fat ass jogging with her, but that was fine. She never frightened me. Her ridiculous sense of humor was an added bonus. Many days, I’d go to the embassy with Robin to help at the employee café. There wasn’t much else to do. At the house, I’d wear out the two videotapes that constituted the library: Alien and Xanadu. Sigourney, Olivia, Sigourney, Olivia…. Megan came for a brief visit mid-summer. She arrived ill after crossing the Atlantic on a military flight in a frigid cabin. Maybe a cold, maybe a flu. Regardless, it was a very low-key, quick visit. I was glad she was there to look in on me and would be able to take a firsthand report back to Mom.
That summer would have wound down with me returning home in August, after a pleasant summer of garden parties, touring the Nimitz aircraft carrier, jogs, and more afternoons at the Hilton pool. It would have were it not for the suggestion that I follow this half of the family to Brussels. Come December, the Tunis posting would end and the Brussels posting would begin, with a stateside visit in between. As a dependent of Obie, the Army would pay for my trip back as it wouldn’t mean shuttling home the divorce kid, but repositioning a member of a military family. I was still too young to really understand money, but I was happy to do my part. My primary concern, however, was seventh grade. The end of sixth grade meant the end of elementary school, and I was due at Washington Irving Junior High School at the end of summer. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, either. I was fat. I was fey. If I could delay that particular school – with its reputation more like Grease than Goodbye, Mr. Chips – count me in. At the American Cooperative School of Tunis, going no higher than 8th grade – with the 9th to 12th grade American kids kicked over to Italy as boarders at the American Overseas School of Rome – I’d be near the top of the pecking order, not at the bottom. All that was left was to call Dora. “Hi, Mom. Is it OK if I stay with Dad till Christmas?”